Kate’s Reviews: “Final Girls”

32796253Book: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: A free ARC provided by Net Galley.

Book Description: Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past. 

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

Review: First and foremost, I want to extend a sincere thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. It means a lot and I greatly appreciate the generosity,

You all know my deep deep love for horror movies, and that I have a serious guilty-ish pleasure for the slasher film genre. There are so many things about it that are kind of grotesque and trite, but I really do enjoy a slash ’em up kind of flick like “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, or “Scream”. I think that my love for that subgenre stems from my time as an awkward teenager who was a bit more cautious and shy than some of her lady friends. Because of this, I really related to the “Final Girl” trope that those movies almost always trot out: the virginal good girl who triumphs over evil and is the only one who can vanquish the bloodthirsty villain. The movie “Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” did a great job of deconstructing the concept of the Final Girl, as did the movie “Final Girls”, and I’ve been aching to read a book about it as well. When Lauren Beukes “Survivors’ Club” didn’t quite get there, my only hope left was “Final Girls” by Riley Sager, and BOY am I THRILLED to say that this book nailed it and gave me everything I needed.

The very scenarios given in this book as the mass killings that the Final Girls endured are so textbook 80s slasher film that I was living a Dayglow glittered fever dream. You have the college kids in a cabin in the woods, the sorority house massacre, and the isolated motel ambush with a killer who is wearing a sack on his head! PERFECTION. But even beyond setting up the perfect slasher scenarios, Sager also painted pictures of how an actual ‘Final Girl’ might endure after the trauma. As much as we love the idea of Nancy Thmpson or Laurie Strode going on to live happy lives, in the real world the consequences would be far more long lasting. Quincy is a complete mess whose outward appearance is a lie to the pain underneath. She has her baking blog and her true blue fiance, but she is addicted to Xanax and unable to let go of Coop, the cop who saved her all those years ago from a killer in the woods. She has distanced herself from other survivors of violent massacres, Lisa and Sam, because while the media loves to lump them together, she just wants to be herself and to live her life. I really loved Quincy for her full damaged self.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was that it wasn’t the meta and self referential homage that I was expecting it to be, even though it’s set up was one hundred percent spot on for such a novel. Instead there was a serious mystery here, specifically involving Sam. After Lisa, the original and perhaps most ‘with it’ Final Girl is found dead of an apparent suicide, Quincy is approached by the second, Sam, who had been off the grid for years. The mystery at the heart of this book is about Sam’s experiences, as well as Quincy’s. Though I went in thinking that it would be about the two of them teaming up to find a killer, it turned out to be something much different. And then it superseded my expectations AGAIN when it also became a question about Quincy and her experience at a cabin in the woods. The movies like to portray these Final Girl types as innocents caught up in a whirlwind of circumstance, the ultimate Madonnas who are better than the Whores that surround them and therefore they get to live. But Sager poses that perhaps it’s more interesting if they are just complex, well rounded people instead of just a trope, and questions whether being innocent is the absolute only thing you can be to deserve to survive something as brutal as a slasher killer.

I truly enjoyed this book as a fan of the slasher genre, even if it wasn’t the self satisfied wink fest I thought it was going to be. Fans of this genre really need to go out and get their hands on “Final Girls”. Quincy has every right to stand with Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and all those other badass women who take out those who wish them ill, and she can do it while still being damaged.

Rating 9: A great mystery with some excellent character studies, “Final Girls” goes beyond a meta romp for slasher horror fans and is a fabulous and suspenseful summer read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Final Girls” is new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists as of yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Best Female Driven Mysteries”, and “Popular Slasher Books”.

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

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